Hostage families protest outside Netanyahu’s home, ramping up pressure for a truce-for-hostages deal

Hostage families protest outside Netanyahu’s home, ramping up pressure for a truce-for-hostages deal
An actress in a cage, relatives and supporters of the Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas attend a march calling for their release, in Tel Aviv on Jan. 19, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 20 January 2024
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Hostage families protest outside Netanyahu’s home, ramping up pressure for a truce-for-hostages deal

Hostage families protest outside Netanyahu’s home, ramping up pressure for a truce-for-hostages deal
  • A group representing families of the hostages said they had “begged for 105 days” and now demanded the government show leadership and take bold steps to free the hostages
  • A member of Israel’s War Cabinet has called a ceasefire the only way to secure their release

JERUSALEM: Relatives of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza protested Saturday outside the home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, expressing frustration over his government’s seeming lack of progress in getting the more than 100 captives released as the war in Gaza drags on.
A group representing families of the hostages said they had “begged for 105 days” and now demanded the government show leadership and take bold steps to free the hostages. A member of Israel’s War Cabinet has called a ceasefire the only way to secure their release, a comment that implied criticism of Israel’s current strategy.
The protest outside the prime minister’s home and the remark by former Israeli army chief Gadi Eisenkot were among several signs of growing strife in Israel over the direction of the war, which is in its fourth month.
Israel’s leadership faces conflicting pressures. Under heat to appease members of his right-wing governing coalition by intensifying the war against Hamas, Netanyahu also must contend with calls for restraint from ally the United States and from the families of hostages, which fear that escalating military activity further endangers the captives’ lives.
The Israeli leader has said he will push for “complete victory” against Hamas but has not outlined how he would achieve it.
Critics have accused him of preventing a Cabinet-level debate about a post-war scenario for Gaza. They say Netanyahu is stalling to prevent conflict within his coalition.
Israel launched its war against Hamas following the militant group’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in Israel and saw about 250 others taken hostage from the country’s south. Health authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza say Israel’s offensive has killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children.
The offensive, one of the most destructive military campaigns in recent history, has pulverized much of the territory and displaced more than 80 percent of its population of 2.3 million people. An Israeli blockade that allows only a trickle of aid into Gaza has led to widespread hunger and outbreaks of disease, United Nations officials have said.
Netanyahu has insisted that the only way to secure the hostages’ return is by crushing Hamas through military means. But relatives of the remaining captives have escalated their campaign for a deal to free their loved ones.
More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were released during a brief November ceasefire in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and minors imprisoned by Israel. Israel has said that more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but only about 100 are believed to be alive.
Eisenkot, who is one of the five members of Israel’s War Cabinet and whose son was killed in December while fighting in Gaza, has called into question Netanyahu’s insistence that only Israel’s blistering air and ground offensive would bring the hostages home.
The hostages “will only return alive if there is a deal, linked to a significant pause in fighting,” Eisenkot said during a television interview late Thursday.
On Friday, the father of a 28-year-old man held by Hamas since Oct. 7 began what he called a hunger strike outside Netanyahu’s home in the coastal town of Caesarea.
Eli Shtivi, whose son Idan was among those kidnapped from a music festival in southern Israel, pledged to eat only a quarter of a pita a day — the amount of food some hostages reportedly receive some days — until the prime minister agreed to meet with him. Dozens of people who joined Shtivi were still there Saturday.
As part of its search for the hostages, Israel’s military dropped leaflets on the territory’s southernmost town of Rafah appealing for information. The leaflets, with photos of dozens of hostages, carried a message suggesting benefits for anyone who spoke up.
“You want to return home? Please report if you identified one of them,” read the message, which also listed a phone number and a link to a website with images and names of the hostages in Arabic.
Al-Majd Al-Amni, a media outlet linked to the Hamas internal security force, warned Palestinians against supplying any information about Israeli soldiers held hostage in Gaza. The warning came hours after the leaflets were dropped.
The war has rippled across the Middle East, with Iranian-backed groups attacking US and Israeli targets. Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon threatens to erupt into all-out war, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to target international shipping in the Red Sea despite US-led airstrikes.
On Saturday, an Israeli strike on Syria’s capital destroyed a building used by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, killing at least four Iranians, Syrian and Iranian state media reported. Also Saturday, an Israeli drone strike on a car near the Lebanese port city of Tyre killed two people, the state-run National News Agency reported. It was not immediately clear who the target was.
In Gaza, residents reached by phone after a seven-day communications blackout reported heavy bombardment and fighting between militants and Israeli troops Saturday morning in and around the southern city of Khan Younis and the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya in the north.
Israeli warplanes and shelling hammered areas in and east of Khan Younis, with gunbattles raging overnight into the early morning in Bani Suheila, a town on the city’s outskirts, residents said.
Halima Abdel-Rahman, a woman displaced from northern Gaza who has sheltered in Bani Suheila since November, said Israeli airstrikes hit several buildings over the last couple of days and that bombing was intense overnight into Saturday.
The fighting has forced many families to leave their homes, many of which were reduced to rubble, and Bani Suheila is largely empty, she said.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, meanwhile, mourners gathered Saturday for the funeral of Tawfiq Ajaq, a 17-year-old American Palestinian shot and killed a day earlier near the city of Ramallah.
The circumstances of the shooting remained unclear Saturday, and police said the incident was under investigation.
Israeli police said they received a report Friday regarding a “firearm discharge, ostensibly involving an off-duty law enforcement officer, a soldier and a civilian.” They did not identify who fired, but described the shooting as taking place over people “purportedly engaged in rock-throwing ” along a highway.
The teen’s father, Hafez Ajaq, said his son was born and raised in the United States and had been living in the family’s home village in the West Bank for the past year. Ajaq expressed anger at the US government, which has provided diplomatic and military support for Israel in its war against Hamas.
“They are killer machines,” he said, referring to Israeli forces. “They are using our tax dollars in the US to support the weapons to kill our own children.”
Asked about the shooting, US national security spokesman John Kirby said officials at the White House were “seriously concerned about these reports.”
“We don’t have perfect context about exactly what happened here,” Kirby said. “And we’re going to be in constant touch with counterparts in the region to — to get more information.”
In recent months, the Biden administration has repeatedly expressed concern about growing volatility in the West Bank, including violence by settlers against Palestinians.


Israel’s old Lebanese allies grapple with new Hezbollah threat

Israel’s old Lebanese allies grapple with new Hezbollah threat
Updated 2 sec ago
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Israel’s old Lebanese allies grapple with new Hezbollah threat

Israel’s old Lebanese allies grapple with new Hezbollah threat
The looming threat of a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon is reviving painful memories for former Lebanese militiamen and their families who fled to Israel, their erstwhile ally, more than 20 years ago.
The South Lebanon Army was a mostly Christian militia recruited by Israel when it occupied south Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Zadalnikim, as the SLA’s former members are known in Israel from the group’s Hebrew acronym, sought shelter south of the border in the aftermath of Israel’s sudden withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, fearing reprisals from Hezbollah, whom they had fought for years in a brutal and uncompromising conflict.
Iran-backed Hezbollah — a Hamas ally with a large arsenal of rockets and missiles — has exchanged fire with Israeli forces almost daily since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 triggering war in Gaza.
In response, Israel has carried out strikes deeper and deeper into Lebanese territory, targeting several Hezbollah commanders.
A strip several kilometers (miles) wide on either side of the border has become a de facto war zone, emptied of its tens of thousands of civilian residents.
“They told us to prepare for two weeks in a hotel in Tiberias” in northern Israel, said Claude Ibrahim, one of Israel’s more prominent Lebanese collaborators.
“It’s already been six months. I hope it won’t last 24 years,” he told AFP, referring to his exile from Lebanon.


Ibrahim, a former right-hand man of the late SLA commander Antoine Lahad, was evacuated from the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border, in October when the entire city was emptied.
“It’s as if history repeated itself... generation after generation,” he said, referring to how the Zadalnikim had to flee their homeland after years spent moving from village to village during the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 1980s.
Of the 6,000 to 7,000 Lebanese who fled to Israel in May 2000, around 3,500 still live in Israel, according to the authorities. They are registered with the interior ministry as “Lebanese of Israel” and were granted citizenship in 2004.
Shortly after their arrival in Israel — where authorities only partly took responsibility for them — many moved on to Sweden, Germany or Canada. Others returned to Lebanon, where they were tried for collaboration with Israel.
All former SLA members in Israel have relatives in Lebanon, mostly in villages in the south, a few kilometers (miles) from the Israeli border.
Few agreed to be interviewed out of fear of reprisals against their families in Lebanon, whom they stay in touch with via third parties for the same reason.
Maryam Younnes, a 28-year-old communications student at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, was five when she arrived in Israel with her parents.


When her father, a former SLA officer, died a decade ago, they were able to bury him in their ancestral village of Debel, roughly 10 kilometers (six miles) as the crow flies from Ma’alot-Tarshiha, the northern Israeli town they moved to.
The rest of their family remained in Lebanon, in Debel and the capital Beirut.
With fears growing that the near-daily exchanges of fire across the border might escalate into a full-scale war, Younnes was worried about her relatives.
“I’m very concerned for my family, for my village (in Lebanon),” said Younnes, who sees herself as “half Lebanese, half Israeli.”
“I hope that there will be a way to protect them,” she said, if there is an all-out war with Hezbollah.
Ibrahim was equally worried, although he voiced hope that a new conflict with Israel would “finish off” his old enemy Hezbollah.
“The only solution is a big strike on Hezbollah so that it understands that there is no way forward but through peace,” he said.
Ibrahim said there was no reason Israel and Lebanon should not be at peace.
But Asher Kaufman, a history professor at Notre Dame University in Indiana who specializes in Lebanon and the wider Middle East, said attitudes in Israel had shifted significantly in the decades since the civil war and the cooperation between Lebanese Christian militias and the Israeli military.
The vision of an alliance between “Lebanese Christians and the Israelis, which was at the root of the 1982 invasion (of Lebanon by Israel) has completely collapsed.”
Israel has stopped “viewing Lebanon as the Switzerland of the Middle East,” a peaceful and prosperous country, and now sees it as “a violent quagmire it wants nothing to do with.”

Israeli forces must halt ‘active participation’ in settler attacks on Palestinians: UN

Israeli forces must halt ‘active participation’ in settler attacks on Palestinians: UN
Updated 22 min 11 sec ago
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Israeli forces must halt ‘active participation’ in settler attacks on Palestinians: UN

Israeli forces must halt ‘active participation’ in settler attacks on Palestinians: UN
  • Israel is still imposing “unlawful” restrictions on humanitarian relief for Gaz

Geneva: The UN voiced grave concern Tuesday over escalating violence in the West Bank, demanding that Israeli security forces “immediately end their active participation in and support for settler attacks” on Palestinians there.
“Israeli authorities must instead prevent further attacks, including by bringing those responsible to account,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the United Nations rights office, told reporters in Geneva.
Israel is still imposing “unlawful” restrictions on humanitarian relief for Gaza, the UN rights office said on Tuesday. “Israel continues to impose unlawful restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian assistance, and to carry out widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office, at a press briefing in Geneva.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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Heavy rains lash UAE and surrounding nations as the death toll in Oman flooding rises to 18

Heavy rains lash UAE and surrounding nations as the death toll in Oman flooding rises to 18
Updated 16 April 2024
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Heavy rains lash UAE and surrounding nations as the death toll in Oman flooding rises to 18

Heavy rains lash UAE and surrounding nations as the death toll in Oman flooding rises to 18
  • Lightning flashed across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building

DUBAI: Heavy rains lashed the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, flooding out portions of major highways and leaving vehicles abandoned on roadways across Dubai. Meanwhile, the death toll in separate heavy flooding in neighboring Oman rose to 18 with others still missing as the sultanate prepared for the storm.
The rains began overnight, leaving massive ponds on streets as whipping winds disrupted flights at Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest for international travel and the home of the long-haul carrier Emirates.
Police and emergency personnel drove slowly through the flooded streets, their emergency lights flashing across the darkened morning. Lightning flashed across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.
Schools across the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, largely shut ahead of the storm and government employees were largely working remotely if able. Many workers stayed home as well, though some ventured out, with the unfortunate stalling out their vehicles in deeper-than-expected water covering some roads.
Authorities sent tanker trucks out into the streets and highways to pump away the water.
Rain is unusual in the UAE, an arid, Arabian Peninsula nation, but occurs periodically during the cooler winter months. Many roads and other areas lack drainage given the lack of regular rainfall, causing flooding.
Initial estimates suggested over 30 millimeters (1 inch) of rain fell over the morning in Dubai, with as much as 128 mm (5 inches) of rain expected throughout the day.
Rain also fell in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
In neighboring Oman, a sultanate that rests on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, at least 18 people had been killed in heavy rains in recent days, according to a statement Tuesday from the country's National Committee for Emergency Management. That includes some 10 schoolchildren swept away in a vehicle with an adult, which saw condolences come into the country from rulers across the region.


Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief

Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief
Updated 16 April 2024
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Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief

Iran closed nuclear facilities in wake of Israel attack: IAEA chief
  • Israel has carried out operations against nuclear sites in the region before
  • Israel accuses Iran of wanting to acquire an atomic bomb, something Tehran denies

United Nations: Iran temporarily closed its nuclear facilities over “security considerations” in the wake of its massive missile and drone attack on Israel over the weekend, the head of the UN’s atomic watchdog said Monday.
Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of a UN Security Council meeting, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi was asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of an Israeli strike on an Iranian nuclear facility in retaliation for the attack.
“We are always concerned about this possibility. What I can tell you is that our inspectors in Iran were informed by the Iranian government that yesterday (Sunday), all the nuclear facilities that we are inspecting every day would remain closed on security considerations,” he said.
The facilities were to reopen on Monday, Grossi said, but inspectors would not return until the following day.
“I decided to not let the inspectors return until we see that the situation is completely calm,” he added, while calling for “extreme restraint.”
Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles at Israel overnight from Saturday into Sunday in retaliation for an air strike on a consular building in Damascus that killed seven of its Revolutionary Guards, two of them generals.
Israel and its allies shot down the vast majority of the weapons, and the attack caused only minor damage, but concerns about a potential Israeli reprisal have nevertheless stoked fears of all-out regional war.
Israel has carried out operations against nuclear sites in the region before.
In 1981, it bombed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, despite opposition from Washington. And in 2018, it admitted to having launched a top-secret air raid against a reactor in Syria 11 years prior.
Israel is also accused by Tehran of having assassinated two Iranian nuclear physicists in 2010, and of having kidnapped another the previous year.
Also in 2010, a sophisticated cyberattack using the Stuxnet virus, attributed by Tehran to Israel and the United States, led to a series of breakdowns in Iranian centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.
Israel accuses Iran of wanting to acquire an atomic bomb, something Tehran denies.


’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift

’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift
Updated 20 min 28 sec ago
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’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift

’No longer a shadow war’: Iran says attack on Israel marks strategic shift
  • Israel’s military said it intercepted 99 percent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the overnight attack caused only minor damage
  • Israel has killed at least 33,797 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory

TEHRAN: Iran’s missile and drone barrage against Israel was the first act of a tough new strategy, Tehran says, warning arch foe Israel that any future attack will spark “a direct and punishing response.”
This spells a dramatic shift from past years in which the Islamic republic and Israel have fought a shadow war of proxy fights and covert operations across the Middle East and sometimes further afield.
Iran from late Saturday launched hundreds of drones and missiles, including from its own territory, directly at Israel, to retaliate for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus.
Israel’s military said it intercepted 99 percent of the aerial threats with the help of the United States and other allies, and that the overnight attack caused only minor damage.
Iran said it had dealt “heavy blows” to Israel and hailed the operation as “successful.”
“Iran’s victorious... operation means that the era of strategic patience is over,” the Iranian president’s political deputy, Mohammad Jamshidi wrote on X.
“Now the equation has changed. Targeting Iranian personnel and assets by the regime will be met with a direct and punishing response.”
President Ebrahim Raisi said the operation had “opened a new page” and “taught the Zionist enemy (Israel) a lesson.”
Iran said it acted in self-defense after the Damascus strike levelled the consular annexe of its embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including two generals.
Western governments denounced Iran’s retaliation as “destabilising the region.”
Iran, however, insisted the attack was “limited” and urged Western nations to “appreciate (its) restraint” toward Israel, especially since the outbreak of the Gaza war on October 7.
Regional tensions have soared amid the Israel-Hamas war which has drawn in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Several IRGC members, including senior commanders, have been killed in recent months in strikes in Syria which Iran has also blamed on Israel.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has frequently called for Israel’s destruction and made support for the Palestinian cause a centerpiece of its foreign policy.
But it had refrained from directly striking Israel until Saturday, an attack on a scale which appeared to catch many in the international community by surprise.
For decades, Iran relied on a network of allied groups to exert its influence in the region and to deter Israel and the United States, according to experts.
A 2020 report by the Washington Institute said that Tehran had adopted a policy of “strategic patience,” which had “served it well since the inception of the Islamic republic in 1979.”
Former moderate president Hassan Rouhani was a staunch defender of the strategy, especially following Washington’s 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal, advocating for Tehran not to take immediate countermeasures and taking a longer view.
Even after the 2020 US killing of Qasem Soleimani, an IRGC commander revered in Iran, Tehran gave prior warning to Washington, US sources said, before it launched missiles against two American bases in Iraq, and no soldiers were killed in the attack.
After Saturday’s attack on Israel, Guards chief Hossein Salami also said Iran was “creating a new equation.”
“Should the Zionist regime attack our interests, our assets, our personnel and citizens at any point, we will counterattack it from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he was quoted as saying by local media.
The attack was also hailed as a “historic” success by Iranian media, with the government-run newspaper Iran saying the offensive “has created a new power equation in the region.”
The ultra-conservative daily Javan said the attack was “an experience Iran needed, to know how to act in future battles” and that it would make Israel “think long before (committing) any crime” against Tehran.
The reformist Ham Mihan newspaper said the attack “ended the status quo and broke the rules of the conflict that pitted the two sides against each other for 20 years and pushed the situation into another phase.”
“This is no longer a shadow war,” it said.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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